Marks & Spencer yesterday announced a major new environmental sustainability strategy designed to transform every part of the business and establish it as the UK's leading "green retailer".
Under the far-reaching five year plan - entitled Plan A, "because there is no plan B" - M&S has pledged to spend £200m on becoming fully carbon neutral, ensuring no waste goes to landfill, overhauling its supply chain to limit its environmental impact, enhancing its ethical trading initiatives and educating customers on healthy and green living.
"M&S will change beyond recognition the way it operates over the next five years," vowed M&S chief executive Stuart Rose. "This is a deliberately ambitious and, in some areas, difficult plan… [But] doing anything less is not an option."
The scale of the 100 point plan - which covers not only M&S' 500 stores but also its network of partners including 2,000 factories and over 5,000 farms – won praise from environmental campaigners who branded it a watershed in the UK retail sector's attitude to the environment.
"This plan sets a new benchmark in the way businesses should be tackling critical sustainability challenges like waste, fairtrade and climate change," said Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future and an advisor on the M&S plan. "It raises the bar for everyone else - not just retailers, but businesses in every sector. We all know that even at the end of these 5 years there will still be a huge amount for M&S to do but we warmly welcome the scale of the ambition of this plan in particular the commitment to include customers and suppliers."
Central to the new strategy is a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2012 and offset the remaining emissions in order to make the company carbon neutral.
In order to achieve this M&S said it will improve company energy efficiency by a quarter and power its stores using renewable energy, including a trial of new anaerobic digestion technologies designed to create energy from food waste from the company's stores and farms.
It has also vowed to overhaul its supply chain by increasing the proportion of food sourced from the UK, using 50 percent bio-diesel in its lorries, and labeling products that have been flown in from abroad in an attempt to make it easier for customers to choose products with fewer "food miles".
Offsetting carbon emissions will only be used as a last resort, according to Rose, and where the business does offset the cost will be assigned to the relevant business unit thus creating a commercial incentive for managers to limit CO2 as much as possible.
Beyond efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the company committed to stopping sending waste to landfill sites; slashing its use of packaging by 25 percent; selecting packaging materials that are easy to recycle or compost, including new biodegradable plastics; and reducing its use of plastic bags by a third.
Procurement strategies will also receive an overhaul with the company committing to expanding its fair trade programmes, only using wood and fish from sources that have been certified for their environmentally sustainable practices, and increasing the use of recycled plastic and organic cotton in its clothing ranges.
A spokesperson for M&S said that besides the environmental imperative for the new strategy there was a clear business case for investing in green business practices and reinforcing the company's reputation for social responsibility.
"Customer awareness of environmental issues has mushroomed to the level where 97 percent of customers are saying we should be doing more in this area," she said. "We found that the Look Behind the Label marketing campaign we released last year had considerable resonance with customers and that has led us to develop this company wide philosophy."
The company also rejected suggestions that the £200m budget would prove insufficient for such an ambitious business transformation initiative, claiming that with separate funds already committed to a chain-wide refurbishment programme much of the extra spending would be integrated into existing investment plans.
"It is an estimate of the investments we'll make in new areas," said the spokeswoman. "And we could mitigate that investment if customers like what they see [and it helps drive revenues]."
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